Down and out and perished in London
BBC Education's long-running and award-winning drama series, Scene, begins the new year with an unremittingly bleak and awful tale of homelessness and betrayal.
Set in the aftermath of Christmas and, appropriately, a bitter winter chill, Stone Cold is the harrowing story of a 17-year-old school-leaver called Link, forced to abandon his home in Bradford to try to nurture some kind of existence for himself in an uncompromisingly callous capital city.
Over the years Scene has developed a reputation for gritty, realistic drama, and Stone Cold maintains the tradition with depressing veracity. The streets of London have never looked more loveless or inhospitable; the divide between those with the twin luxuries of jobs and homes and those without, never more acute.
As the startled new arrival in a Dickensian netherworld of unlit stairwells and shop doorways, Paul Gibbon as Link affects a heartbreaking naivety. "How can somebody just disappear and nobody care?" he asks in wide-eyed disbelief when friends begin to vanish mysteriously.
The dispossessed are being lured to a premature death by a crusading lunatic (played very much against type by Peter Howitt, formerly Joey in Bread), who is on a mission to clear the streets of their homeless inhabitants. But no one does care.
"Have you any idea how many kids go missing every week?" asks a harassed policeman when Link tries to track down his missing best mate. "What do you want me to do, send out a search party?" The sense of hopelessness and abandonment is profound. This is a stark reminder of something which many of us do our best to ignore. It is based on a book by Robert Swindells, who says he wrote it in anger, partly over "a remark by Sir George Young, then housing minister, who said that the homeless are 'the sort of people one steps on when coming out of the opera' ". He was also reacting to the "raw deal" many school-leavers get these days, "forced into occupations they haven't chosen".
The programme was made with the support of Centrepoint, the youth homelessness charity, which understands only too well the scale of the problem: an estimated 300,000 young people were homeless last year.
As a focus for PSE, Stone Cold embraces several difficult topics as well as homelessness, such as leaving home, family breakdown, identity crises and loneliness. It makes uncomfortable and compelling viewing.